Poetry News

The Poems and Voices of Mark Nowak's Domestic Workers United Workshop

By Harriet Staff

PEN Live! has coverage from the PEN World Voices Festival 2012 panel "There’s so much to say…,” moderated by Mark Nowak. The panel "gave voice to and showcased the writings of participants who’d completed a poetry workshop with Nowak, meeting Saturday mornings at the Domestic Workers United office, in downtown Manhattan, over the course of five months." Domestic Workers United is a guild of New York nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers, organizing for power, respect, and fair labor standards.

The panelists--Arlene Charles, Yvonne Ennis, Allison Julien, Christine Lewis, Lizeth Palencia, Gricelda Sanchez, and Jeanette Warner--"are all domestic workers—nannies and housekeepers—in New York City. Some of the participants had never tried their hand at creative writing before this workshop while others, such as Christine Lewis, have been writing for many years." More:

Nowak screened a video segment of the Saturday morning workshops, filmed by the videographer, Olga Oros, in which he guides the participants through creative writing exercises. The sessions appeared to be dynamic and heartfelt. Workshop members sat around a wide rectangular table in a sunlit room, actively sharing their creative ideas while revealing personal and often painful stories.


The poems spoke about the alienating, hurtful and disorienting experiences of working in people’s homes, of taking charge of that most personal space and of their employers’ most precious possessions—the children—and yet being treated as second class citizens or as if they are invisible.

“They don’t care about us,” said one of the panelists, while another said, “They are deceiving people. They only pretend to be your friend. I say to them, I am the employee, you are my employer. I am not your family.”

Allison Julien prefers to keep her personal life separate from work. “The more people know about you, they use it against you,” she said. “At work, I’m a nanny. After work, I’m an activist, writer, social organizer!”

Read the entire account here. You can also watch the panel and ensuing discussion below, courtesy of PEN.org.


Originally Published: May 15th, 2012